Martin O’Neill popped into the victorious Dundalk dressing room on Tuesday night to congratulate the players on a “phenomenal” and “extraordinary” Champions League performance, the Ireland manager even hailing the 3-0 defeat of BATE Borisov as being “as good a result as anything in the summer.”
President Michael D Higgins, the SSE Airtricity League’s most high-profile supporter, didn’t spare the praise either, sharing his “delight in this remarkable achievement against quality opponents” and wishing Dundalk “every success” in their Champions League play-off.
As for the man at the heart of it all, there were times when Lilywhites boss Stephen Kenny struggled to contain his emotions in the aftermath of one of the greatest nights in League of Ireland history.
A lot of the headlines might have been about the financial windfall — a guaranteed €5.6m which would be tripled to €15m should they reach the Champions League group stages — but, for Kenny, the real meaning of success can’t be measured financially.
“I think that’s the big thing,” he said.
“You might find it hard to believe but money hasn’t been mentioned once in the group.
“It’s been about the sacrifices they have all made in their careers, and their parents have made and their family members, and the element of pride that their families feel.
“A few of them have small children and it’s about creating huge memories for those children in the future. You can’t measure that.
“The ecstasy when we scored the third goal was just special.
“You could see the joy and you don’t always get that in life in any form so to be part of that is amazing.
“It’s always been my ambition to qualify for the group stages of European competitions, a personal ambition. I was really driven to do it but it’s really hard to do it and it’s amazing to achieve it.
“But I don’t want to say that too much because we are in the Champions League and we want to go for that.
“The bar is constantly being raised but it’s hard to sustain it. Particularly when you’re in Oriel Park and the facilities, and you come back the next year and nothing has improved and that can demoralise you.
“You need to see things growing with your performances. You need to see that, as it can inspire you again.
“I knew in pre-season that I had a real job on my hands after winning the double, but getting that drive to keep going — the players deserve huge credit for that.”
Part of the price of continued success in Europe for Dundalk is that, having had to vacate Oriel for Tallaght to face BATE, ever more stringent Uefa stadium regulations mean they will be on the move again for their play-off game against opponents whose identity will be revealed by tomorrow’s draw in Nyon.
“I would hope it is the Aviva but we’ll wait and see,” said Kenny. “The Aviva is where we won the FAI Cup and we have good memories of it.
“That would not faze us at all. We’re not really interested in some kind of glamour draw.
“What we want is the best opportunity to qualify. We want to be part of the group stages of the Champions League.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved